My literal soul quivered on every single page from the unexpected laughs to the warranted tears in Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun. Once again, I approached a YA novel with reservations and preconceived notions of how it would unfold. I was so very mistaken, much like the time I prejudged The Fault in Our Stars.
There is this poor idea that floats around regarding YA saying there is no depth to it. There are many great examples that prove that idea wrong, and I’ll Give You the Sun is one of those examples. The depth and richness of all the characters, especially the two main narrators, is so thirst quenching.
The plot is driven by two main characters, twins Noah and Jude. In normal twin-ness they seemingly complete each other so much so that they know one another singularly as NoahandJude. However the narration is split between characters and time frames. Noah gets to narrate the past, while Jude gets to narrate the present. The time frames are split by a tragic event that leaves both characters scarred and hurt and torn from one another until the thought of NoahandJude becomes mythical. Using art as a force to divide but ultimately heal, Nelson delivers an emotional home run, searching for what it means to be true to oneself.
The identity struggles both characters go through is so enriching and fulfilling. Jude is labeled early on as that girl and loses herself completely by trying not to be that person. Almost like she can avoid being that girl only if she is no one at all. But she has this awesome transformation that comes from her realization that she is the one who gets to decide who she is … finally realizing she can say, “No, that’s not me.”
Noah struggles with his identity, too. From the get-go of the story, we know he’s gay; he’s attracted to other guys. But he’s skirting that label (which understandably at 13 he may not be ready for); in fact, we never even hear the word, “gay,” until the last quarter of the novel, when it’s at acceptance. The pejorative, “fag,” is used; however, it doesn’t seem to stimulate any identification quandary in Noah.
Again, art is the powerhouse of this novel. Both Noah and Jude are gifted artistically and through their gifts they navigate the telling of this story. In the “present” story, Jude and Noah are hardly on speaking terms, for an array of reasons. At the turn of the novel, Jude comes up with the idea that she’ll carve an image of her and Noah from stone. I think it’s poignant that she is never able to free NoahandJude from the rock she’s carving. She doesn’t need to; they are already free.
Of course, art is also a vessel for healing. Isn’t it always? “Remake the world,” is used several times. Art is the brush that remakes the world. It definitely does so for the two main characters. It creates an entirely new world for them.
I’ll Give You the Sun is a remarkable coming-of-age story with genuine characters that are completely real to me. NoahandJude, wholly and separately, are people I know, people I want to know. The depth and the emotion this novel is able to extract from an individual makes it deserving of all the awards it has won and certainly deserving of your attention.
Favorite Passages in I’ll Give You the Sun
No one tells you how gone gone really is, or how long it lasts. (295)
But what if I don’t need her permission, her approval, her praise to be who I want to be and do what I love? What if I’m in charge of my own damn light switch? (307)
People die … but your relationship with them doesn’t. It continues and is ever-changing. (367)
Because who knows? Who knows anything? Who knows who’s pulling the strings? Or what is? Or how? Who knows if destiny is just how you tell yourself the story of your life? (369)